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Hunting for treasure in the south of France

Hunting for treasure in the south of France

Saturday, January 23, 2010
Aix and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Interested in a Music and Markets Tour? We’d love to hear from you!

Our hunts today will take us from the colorful markets of Aix to the remote countryside of the Luberon.
Passing through the Place d’Hôtel de Ville we enjoy the sight of masses of sunny mimosa, a reminder that spring is not far away.
We know just the right merchant to fulfill our first search: my favorite tablecloth booth is close to the Palais des Justice, and this time I’ve remembered to bring our table measurements. It doesn’t take long to choose a lovely linen cloth to take home.
Around 11 Xavier and Gloria pick us up to drive to pursue our next treasure – we’re going truffle hunting in the Luberon countryside about an hour north of Aix.
We’re scheduled to meet the hunter in the afternoon, and have left early enough to have lunch in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a former mill town with several charming waterwheels remaining, now a renowned antiques center.

Nearly all of our previous visits have been on summer Sundays, the main antique and market day, as part of our Music and Markets Provence tour, and it’s quite different to see the town empty of booths.
The historic Café de France, where we always stop for breakfast, is usually hidden behind a flower sellers booth.
And I didn’t even realize there were arcaded lanes around the main square since they, too, have been hidden behind market stalls.

Lunch is at a Bouchon, a typical restaurant of Lyon, where Xavier and Gloria have eaten previously.
Kirk surprises me by ordering andouillette, a sausage that he tried years ago, and said he was not going to order again, since it was “too close to the barnyard” for him.
He says this one is better, but he really won’t order it again. He’s braver than I am!

We walk around the town, sometimes called the Venice of the Vaucluse (this area of Provence) and admire the little bridges and water wheels around town.
On the edge of the village, where the Sorgue widens, a fanciful holiday decoration still floats in the water.
Then we’re on our way to the hunt, driving out of town to meet our guide, Geo of Truffles of the Luberon, and other treasure seekers. We rendezvous at a roadside picnic area, meet and greet, and get back in our cars to follow Geo down a backroad out into the country.
There are about ten of us, all French except for Kirk, Gloria, and me.
Geo tells us about the fragrant black truffles of the area, prized by restauranteurs and foodies, and his two dogs,
one an Australian shepherd, and the other, who’s just starting to learn the skills of the hunt, a Corsican hound.
The dogs bound off to sniff below the scrub oaks, and soon are scratching at the ground.

Geo hurries over as Beirut begins scratching in earnest, and pulls the dog away as he carefully explores the area with his pick.
Bingo!
It’s a big one!


And the reward?
Lots of affirmation and cuddles for Beirut…

But he does want something more concrete, and sniffs Geo’s pockets. He knows what’s in there! And soon gets his treat.

Geo passes the truffle around – aah – imagine it generously

grated over pasta, or risotto, or tucked under the skin of a roasting chicken.
I’m getting hungry…

What fun it is to tramp around the countryside, enjoying the views and the fresh air.
Across the valley is the pretty village of Saumanes,
tucked up against the cliffs.
One of the ladies, who knows the area well, tells us it’s worth a visit, with a charming square and church.
There are so many beautiful places to explore in France – we could never run out of discoveries!
Another intriguing feature of the Luberon is the old stone shepherd huts, bories, that dot the countryside.
No one knows how old they are, how long they’ve been here, and it’s always a bit like finding another treasure when we spot one.

We all head back to our cars and drive to Geo’s home, where he empties his pockets of today’s “catch” and weighs the truffles. It’s rather a slim haul today, as it has been this season, due to an extremely dry summer. For truffles to grow, there has to be enough rain from June to September, and this year there was almost none.
Back in Aix, we pack our bags to head to Paris tomorrow….where we’ll arrive just in time for the Bonjour Paris gathering at Karen Fawcett’s apartment.
We can’t leave without one more stroll down fountain-
lined Cours Mirabeau,
where the mossy fountain, fed by a thermal spring, steams into the cool night air.

A little further down is the low fountain, designed for the flocks of sheep to take a sip as they passed through town long ago for the tranhumance, when livestock was moved from mountain to plain a couple of times a year.
I’ll be back next week, but Kirk flies home on Monday, so we say au revoir together to evening on the Cours.